Here's part of "Tricky Living," copyright by Russ Walter, second edition. For newer info, read the 33rd edition of the "Secret Guide to Computers & Tricky Living" at


Avoid cigarettes, illegal drugs (such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy), excessive alcohol, and tanning. They’re all very toxic: they wreck your body in many ways.


Drinking a little alcohol can be good in two ways: it raises HDL and also tissue-type plasminogen activator (T-PA, which helps break up blood clots). But drinking alcohol can also harm your brain, liver, and other organs and be addictive, so doctors give these warnings:

Don’t drink alcohol if you’re pregnant or going to drive or going to need unimpaired judgment & thought.

Don’t have more than 1 drink per day if you’re a woman, 2 drinks if a man. (A “drink” means 12 ounces of beer, 5 oz. of wine, or 1½ oz. of 80-proof spirits.) If you’re very young or very small, drink even less — or don’t drink at all.

Don’t start drinking alcohol if you’ve never drunk before, since you might have trouble learning how to control your drinking.


If an animal eats toxins, the animal’s liver tries to filter those toxins out of the blood. Many of those toxins stay in the liver. Don’t eat the liver!


Mercury’s a toxin that impairs your brain and nervous system: it makes you stupid and nervous. (During the 1800’s, people who made hats used mercury, became crazy, were called “mad hatters,” and formed the basis for Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter Tea Party.)

Many industrial factories spit out mercury, which eventually winds up in water and infects aquatic plants. When small fish eat those plants, the small fish’s flesh gets infected. When bigger fish eat those small fish, the big fish’s flesh gets even more infected, and contains even more mercury per pound of flesh, because the mercury stay in the body while other substances are excreted. The bigger the fish, the more mercury per pound.

Big fish Don’t eat big fish (such as shark, swordfish, and mackerel): their flesh is all high in mercury. The US government especially warns pregnant women not to eat big fish.

Tuna Since tuna can grow nearly as big as those other fish, nutritionists get nervous about tuna also. When buying canned tuna, you can choose packaging (“packed in water” contains less fat than “packed in oil”) and what kind of fish was killed:

Solid white tuna is a slab of flesh cut from albacore (big tuna). It contains a lot of mercury.

Chunk light tuna is combined from small tuna. It looks darker than solid white. It costs half as much as solid white. It contains a third as much mercury per pound as solid white.


On farms, most fruits are sprayed with pesticides. Rinse the fruit to remove most of the pesticides. Gentle scrubbing helps further. You don’t have to peel the fruit. In fact, the best fruit nutrients are in the peel!

But here are two exceptions:

You must peel fruit when you visit third-world countries where farmers & vendors use unsanitary handling.

If you want to make your own orange marmalade from orange peel, don’t use ordinary oranges: the pesticides on orange peel are too strong to rinse or rub off. You must use unsprayed oranges instead.


Sodium nitrite (NaNO2) and sodium nitrate (NaNO3) are preservatives that are added to meat (especially hot dogs) and fish to improve color (make pork look pink instead of white) and prevent spoilage. They’re preservatives.

Sodium nitrite might cause cancer. But Consumer Reports concluded the amount of sodium nitrite added to processed meats is too little to worry about, since it accounts for just 5% of the sodium nitrite in an American’s body: the remaining 95% comes as a byproduct of eating healthy natural foods such as broccoli.

On the other hand, sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate can raise your blood pressure, since they both contain sodium.

Salt & sugar

Salt and sugar are preservatives. Dumping them into food prevents the food from getting moldy soon, because molds and bacteria can’t eat so much salt & sugar. Neither can you! Salt & sugar kill not just bacteria but also you! Eat less salt and sugar and you’ll live longer.


Burnt food causes cancer. For example, barbecued meat (with grilled char marks) causes cancer. So do smoked meat, toasted bread, and toasted cereal. One of the many reasons why cigarettes cause cancer is that they’re burnt.

To prevent barbecued food from causing so much cancer, barbecue less (by microwaving before you barbecue) and push the coals and fat to the sides (to prevent the fat from dripping onto the coals and then shoot hissing flames and smoke back up to the meat).


Keep most foods refrigerated or frozen. In a typical American refrigerator (which has the freezer on top), the warmest spots are at the far bottom and in the door, so don’t store fish and meat there: the warmer spots are just for fruits, vegetables, and other items that can bear to be closer to room temperature. (Exception: health departments require restaurants to store raw meat below other foods, to make sure the raw meat’s juice doesn’t drip onto other foods.)

If food gets warm, bacteria and mold start growing there. You can’t solve that problem by just cooking the food afterwards: though cooking kills bacteria and mold, it doesn’t take away the toxins that the bacteria and mold already squirted into the food. You’ll still get sick.

When cutting out mold, cut a full inch around the visible mold, since the surrounding area has been infected even if your eyes don’t see the mold there yet.

Strawberries spoil fast, so eat them soon after you buy them.

Bananas spoil even faster and are the hardest fruit to handle. In exactly one week, bananas turn from green to yellow to brown. The trick is to make the bananas ripen to yellow fast (by putting them in a paper bag), then eat them. Once you refrigerate bananas, they won’t properly ripen further (though they’ll get moldy), so don’t refrigerate bananas until they’ve turned yellow. If you freeze bananas (to form a frozen treat), their skins will continue to brown but their insides will stay unchanged; so remove the skins before freezing, to prevent the skins from becoming disgusting to remove.

Fish is delicate: the bacteria in fish (and shellfish) can survive at low temperatures. So don’t keep fish in the refrigerator or freezer long: eat the fish soon. When serving fish, serve it hot, as soon as it finishes cooking: don’t let it sit. (If you let fish sit, you’ll raise its bacteria count and also wreck the taste.)

Make sure all fish and shellfish is cooked. Don’t eat raw shellfish (such as “clams on the half shell”): it’s too dangerous and barely legal.